inevitable

IMGP0566Just as it was getting light this morning, Ira got suited up, grabbed his gun, and left to go squirrel hunting. There’s only a few more days of squirrel season left, but I think the child has shot 56 squirrels so far. Admittedly, I won’t be sad when the season ends as we have eaten so. many. squirrels. They taste fabulous, don’t get me wrong. And I am proud of him for always cleaning them with care and relish seeing how proud he is when we sit down to a meal that he harvested and often prepared all by himself. But I have strange moments of wondering when the natural balance in the squirrel population could be upset… or when hungry squirrel-eating hawks decide to pay a visit to our chicken paddock when they find tree-dwelling rodents are in short supply. Hmmmm.IMGP0594It was 12 degrees this morning. The cold weather doesn’t seem to bother Ira much, he refuses long underwear (well, any underwear for that matter) but he has actually taken to wearing socks with his rubber boots. If you know Ira, that is quite a revelation. When he returned from his hunt and set in giving Papa his report (again, if you know Ira, you also know that he always always has something to say.) he said it felt like a summer morning. Summer. He has a particular keenness for birds and pays attention to what they have to say. Apparently, this morning the birds’ chatter, and gobblers calling in the distance, alerted his brain to the fact that change is in the air. The inevitable change that happens when winter gives way to spring. And spring to summer, for that matter. And it is inevitable, too. The change. There is no stopping it. Even though there is still snow on the ground. Even though more snow could be falling this evening. Spring’s return is inevitable. And I’ll be glad for it.IMGP0504

firsts

IMG_8139The first frost of the season settled on the farm over the weekend. We knew it was coming, as we saw nearly a 50 degree temperature drop in just a few days, but somehow never feel fully prepared for the reality of that plummeting mercury. Here in Bugtussle, the temperatures hovered right around the freezing point but didn’t dip low enough to send the garden into complete submission. In areas of the garden with good air drainage we saw very little frost damage. Even tomato and pepper plants somehow survived with only a slight kiss of frost, while neighboring summer squash plants were scorched. Some ginger that was still in the ground thankfully only had some leaf damage while in the next row over, the last few remaining rows of sweet potatoes were weirdly dark and melty looking.IMG_8140So on Sunday (a day of rest, right?), we made a push to finish up the sweet potato harvest and get them out of the ground before any of the frost damage could travel down the vine and adversely affect those precious roots. Golly, if my somewhat tired brain serves me right now, I’m figuring we lifted just a few hundred pounds shy of two tons of sweet potatoes from our garden soil. That’s a whole lot of winter meals!

The first frost came sort of early this year. Not much, but enough for us to realize all that still needs to be wrapped up before the persistent nightly frosts make themselves known around these parts: finish harvesting ginger and peanuts; haul the ridiculous amount of winter squash to the barn; glean the last of the tomatoes and peppers and maybe even process some; clean-up, clean-up, clean-up in the garden; and finally get cover crops on any bare soil. Oh, yeah… and plant a quarter acre of garlic.IMG_8142The weekend also heralded our first fall share delivery in our CSA. This time of year is always slightly insane… that odd clash of seasons that procures watermelons and sweet potatoes in the same basket (which was a first). The time of year when summer isn’t quite over but fall is fully upon us, if you know what I mean. Kind of wacky, but Eric and I get great amusement out of watching our shareholders load their baskets, juggling the melons while hefting the weight of all the potatoes and sweet potatoes, and trying not to smash the kale or the tomatoes. It’s such a treat for us to know that our food will travel into so many special homes to be prepared and consumed by so many special folks. I really do love my job. Even though I work most weekends.

On a different wavelength, I started knitting my very first pair of socks, knitted two at a time. There is genius behind knitting two matching garments, or a pair of something, at the same time. Just think… no more will I have face the deflated feeling of exactly repeating the same project I just completed in order to have a pair of something. (also know as the “second sock syndrome”) Nope. Two at once is brilliant. I’ve wanted to give this technique a whirl for a long time now, but am just feeling the mental wherewithal to actually tackle such a project. I’m sure for the experienced two-at-a-time-knitter, it’s really not a big deal. But I am not that person, and for me it is a very big deal. I did beg my children to “just leave me alone” for a few minutes so I could successfully cast-on the socks (which is the tricky part). Surely that doesn’t make me a terrible mother.IMG_8150{Here I am following the instructions for “sample” socks from Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. They are knitted in different colors to help the beginner be able to have a better idea what the hell they are doing. That, too, is genius.}

And on an entirely different note, my little man Ira shot his first squirrel today. Perfect shot, too. He cleaned it himself and he’ll be cooking it for lunch tomorrow. The acorns are so insane right now, I imagine that squirrel is “acorn-finished”…IMG_8170There’s a first time for everything, friends.

response. ability.

The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem inordinately short this year. Not only are there fewer hours of daylight, there are fewer days of preparation. The constant to-do list of vegetable harvest and preparation has been temporarily relaxed. There’s not much I want to do right now except create Christmas gifts. This year, I’m feeling more confident with knitting. winter garden

Like my fellow farmwife, Robin, I am fond of small projects with sticks and wool that can be seen through to completion in a relatively short period of time. Unlike Robin, I don’t have sheep, so I work at the mercy of whatever yarn I can glean from friends and local craft stores. Also, I haven’t yet absorbed from my crafty friends how to do those great thumb gussets, so I’m still at the stage of creating nice rectangles, and simple circles. Nonetheless, the act of that creation, especially when it is for one of the wonderful friends or family members who grace my life, is extremely satisfying.

But what else corresponds with this season of intense creativity?

Deer season.

Shots ring out in the early dawn, and my Fellow Man is out of bed and long gone before sun shines down the hollow. Around here, venison is for dinner.

So, knitting projects abandoned, I spend a day, or two or three, with my husband, in the kitchen, preparing our year’s worth of meat. As I slice and wrap and label and pack, freeze, can, make stock, and can some more, I wonder. Food isn’t that hard to come by. We spend a tremendous amount of time and energy focused on almost every aspect of our food supply, every season; the labor is rather relentless. Why do we do this?

There are may answers to every question of course, and I have many thoughts about hunting. I will only break the ice here.

Right now I’m thinking about responsibility.

Lulah and I have been reading compound words lately, so I’m enjoying breaking language down into smaller parts.

Response. Ability. How able are we to respond to the situation at hand?

There is a growing consensus among health-care providers and the population at large, that the quality of our food matters. From here, we can look at what ‘quality’ means. Does it mean marbled Grade A? I don’t think so. The quality of vegetables has largely to do with the soil in which they grew and the nutrients they end up with. The quality of meat has to do with the life of the animal. Poor, depleted soil grows deficient vegetables. Animals who lead lives deprived of sunlight, clean water, proper food, and exercise make poor meat. There’s much more to be said about these issues. I know I’m simplifying, but I think the reasoning holds true even when simply stated.

Our friends grow some excellent meat. Sometimes we buy, trade, and receive as gifts lamb, pork, and beef. But if we had to buy everything we ate, we probably couldn’t afford it. Along those lines, we don’t live in a highly populated agricultural area. There aren’t acres of tobacco, corn, or soybeans being grown in the immediate vicinity. The deer here are browsing in the woods (and in our gardens). Like our friends’ livestock, these deer are NOT eating GMO corn and soybeans. They are leading natural lives, doing what deer do best.

We don’t have a large land base. Our livestock consists of small flocks of chickens and turkeys, and we don’t really feel that we have sufficient space for the turkeys. My husband is not made to be a vegetarian, and neither is our daughter. Levon would like to live on blueberries and yogurt, but that’s another story. Our household best thrives with some meat in the freezer. lulah up a tree

We also don’t have large predators around here. Wolves, bears, and panthers used to walk these hills, but no more. Deer populations are thriving, however. Our garden is surrounded by four to five strands of electric wire because without it, we would not have a garden. One year, before the fence, the deer ate half of a long row of beans, down to the ground, in one night. Some years, in flood or drought, their populations become too large to sustain and they sicken and die in the woods. Humans are the biggest predators in the local food web, and so we have a job to do.

So, it seems to me, that my Fellow Man in the field, and I in the kitchen, are responding to the best of our ability, to the needs of our family as well as the living community around us. The act of Living entails relationships, and certain responsibilities. Dying does too, I suppose.

And it’s not with a grudge that we fulfill this responsibility. Paul enjoys the woods before dawn, the quiet, still time. I enjoy the time with my husband in the kitchen. We stand across from one another at the counter, chatting. We mourn, praise, and admire the deer, and we are thankful for this wild abundance that comes our way. The deer, like the squirrels, hawks, raccoons, owls, chickens, groundhogs, and human neighbors, are part of our community. We admire, respect, and appreciate them for their contributions. Sometimes they contribute song, sometimes amusement, sometimes manure, sometimes trouble, and sometimes food. We try to give back, too. It’s part of the responsibility.

Now, with the pressure canner rattling happily in the kitchen, my gaze returns to a bag of sticks and wool. Sweet December. There is time enough for all these things, and probably, for more.

sundown